A widespreaad belief among the general public and professionals alike is that "sexual abuse causes sexual abuse" (Finkelhor et al., 1986; Kempe and Kempe, 1984; Lanyon, 1986). That is, sexually abused children and adolescents who have engaged in sexual behavior with an adult (or a significantly older adolescent) are commonly thought to be at risk in later years of themselves becoming sexually involved with children and adolescents. This belief is referred to here as the "abused/abuser hypothesis of child and adolescent sexual abuse."
Given the popularity of the abused/abuser hypothesis, it is perhaps surprising to find that there is a dearth of evidence supporting it. This is not to say that there is a substancial body of contradictory evidence. Rather, only a handful of studies have actually investigated the presumed association, and the designs and methods of these studies have been less than ideal. Most of the relevant data come from retrospective studies of adults that do not allow that do not allow for direct causal analysis.
[...] this chapter critically reviews the theoretical formulations and major research findings (i.e., data and interpretations) pertaining to the abused/abuser hypothesis.
Conditioning and/or modeling processes have been proposed as the means by which childhood and adolescent sexual behavior with adults may be related to subsequent sexual behavior with children and adolescents when these former children and adolescents themselves become adults (Howells 1981).
McGuire, Carlisle, and Young (1965) hypothsized that nonnormative sexual arousal may become conditioned through masturbatory fantasies paired with orgasm. These researchers suggested that early sexual experiences, such as sexual behavior with an adult, supply the material for these masturbatory fantasies and that throughd classical conditioning (i.e., conditioned stimulus = fantasy, unconditioned stimulus = orgasm), the fantasy stimuli become increasingly sexually arousing. McGuire and collegues suggested that these masturbatory fantasies might become progressively nonnormative as a result of memory distortion and selection over time. They also allowed that other factors, such as feelings of physical or social inadequacy, might be important determinants of a preference for nonnormative sexual fantasies over more conventional ones.
There are two mechanisms by which conditioning can increase the probability of an adult's becoming sexually involved with a child or an adolescent. First, adult sexual behavior with a child or an adolescent often clinically manifests itself in the affected child or adolescent as sexual precociousness and increased sexual behavior (Alter-Reid et al., 1986; Finkelhor et al., 1986; Yates, 1982). Theoretically, a child's or an adolescent's increased sexual behavior with peers could directly condition sexual arousal to children and could serve as the basis for subsequent conditioning through masturbatory fantasies. Second, through processes like memory distortion over time, the child or adolescent who had been sexually involved with an adult could develop a masturbatory fantasy that somehow results in the conditioning of sexual arousal to children (e.g., fantasizing the self in the role of the adult).
Modeling (observational learning) has also been suggested as a process by which childhood and adolescent sexual behavior with adults may be related to subsequent sexual behavior with children and adolescents (Freeman-Longo, 1986; Howells, 1981). The child or adolescent may learn through observation that adults can and do sexually interact with children, that they experience rewarding consequences as a result of such interaction, and that they are unlikely to be punished. No doubt, many such children and adolescents also are misinformed by the adult involved in the abuse about the propriety of such misbehavior (Burgess et al., 1978)
There is plausibility to these cognitive-behavioral formulations. In support of the conditioning hypothesis are the observations that sexual responses can be classically conditioned (Dougher et al., 1987; Rachman, 1966) and that some adjudicated adult sex offenders become sexually aroused (as assessed by penile plethysmograohy) by descriptions of their own childhood sexual experiences with adults (Freeman-Longo, 1986). However, in tow important respects, these formulations are limited. First, at an empirical level, for obvious ethical reasons there is no systematic evidence that either conditioning or modeling processes are operative in the development of adult sexual behavior with children or adolescents. Second, at a theoretical level, it is obvious that neither conditioning nor modeling processes alone can be necessary and sufficient causes. Other variables, such as social inadequacy, appear necessary for explaining why the child or adolescent who has been sexually involved with an adult remains sexually interested in children or adolescents when this child or adolescent becomes an adult (Howells, 1981). Consideration of other variables is especially important for the conditioning hypothesis. Many prepubescent and pubescent children experience sexual arousal and even orgasm with peers but do not later in adulthood engage in sexual behavior with children or adolescents (Howells, 1981; Langfeldt 1981). Thus, while conditioning and modelling mechanisms may be determinants of adult human sexual behavior with children and adolescents, by themselves they are not adequate explanations.
Identification and/or mastering processes also have been suggested as mechanisms by which childhood and adolescent sexual behavior with adults may lead to later adult sexual involvement with children or adolescents.
It is often suggested that adult androphilic pedophilia may be the long-term outcome of a previous emotionally gratifying experience of seuxal contact with an adult during childhood or adolescence (Halleck, 1965; Rush, 1980; Seghorn, Prenky, and Boucher, 1987; Storr, 1964; Summit, 1983). Theoretically, for the emotionally deprived and neglected male child, sexual interaction with an older male could prove comforting and enjoyable. Through the machanism of identification with the older partner, the male child or adolescent could be predisposed to become sexually involved with other male children or adolescents when he is an adult. Such an individual may identify with young males as the recipients of his affection and can therefore easily rationalize his behavior.
This formulation is supported indirectly by certain findings. Emotional deprivation, especially involving an inadequate or absent relationship with the father, has been suggested and found to be a correlate of male child and adolescent sexual behavior with adult males (Bender, 1965; DeJong, Emmett, and Hervada, 1982a; Finkelhor, 1984; Halleck, 1965; Ingram, 1979; Oliven, 1965; Pierce and pierce, 1985; Rush 1980; Virkkunen, 1981). Also, it has been found that adult males' retrospektive self-reports of sexual contact during childhood and adolescence are not uniformly negative (Finkelhor, 1979; Fritz, Stoll, and Wagner, 1981; Landis, 1956) and that some young males may contemporaneously evaluate such an interaction as positive (Sandfort 1982). Furthermore, it has been clinically observed that children sometimes interpret a disrupted sexual relationship with an adult as a loss (Burgess et al., 1978; Burgess et al., 1984). Finally, researchers have noted that androphilic pedophiles often self-report disrupted or poor relationships with their fathers (Gebhard et al., 1965; Mohr, Turner, and Jerry, 1964; Paitich and Langevin, 1976). However, despite these suggestive findings, there is at the present time little or no direct empirical support for this psychodynamic formulation.
A second psychodynamic formulation emphasizes both identification and mastery processes. In this formulation, "identification with the aggressor" and the conversion of passive experience into active done to others are the means by which sexual trauma is said to be related to "perversion" (Rosen, 1979; Stoller, 1975, 1979, 1985). Stoller, particularly, has articulated the process by which sexual trauma may lead to perversion in general. However, the formulation can be easily applied to adult sexual behavior with children and adolescents.
Stoller theorizes that pervers fantasies or acts represent the recapitulation of actual trauma directed at an individual's sex or gender identity. Perverse fantasies and acts are the means by which an individual symbolically attempts to gain revenge for and mastery over a childhood sexual trauma. As a result of identification with the aggressor, the individual, through such activities, is capable of temporarily turning a passively endured childhood trauma into an actively controlled adult triumph. Such activities preserve erotic gratification and a sense of potency.
Aggressive, antisocial behavior in male children and male adolescents is a common correlate of the disclosure of sexual involvement with an adult (Burgess et al., 1984; Burgess, Hartman, and McCormack, 1987; Carmen, Rieker and Mills, 1984; Firedrich and Luecke, 1988; Rogers and Terry, 1984; Summit, 1983). This behavior commonly includes a sexual element (Rogers and Terry, 1984). [...]
Stoller's psychodynamic formulation, too, is supported by the similarities between offense characteristics and retrospective self-report data in incarcerated adult sex offenders of children or adolescents. Freeman-Longo (1986) and Groth (1979) have reported that incarcerated adult sex offenders who as children or adolescents themselves were sexually involved with adults often replicate their sexual experiences with children or adolescents with whom they become involved and the types of sexual acts performed have been noted to correspond to their own previous childhood and adolescent sexual experiences with adults.
Several theoretical formulations for the abused/abuser hypothesis have been proposed. These formulations have invoked conditioning, modeling, identification and mastery processes. While each formulation has some explanatory power and some indirect empirical support, none have been shown to offer superior explanatory and predictive potency over competing formulations. Additionally, each formulation awaits more systematic research.
Clearly, variables in addition to previous sexual behavior with an adults have to be considered in evaluating the merits of the abused/abuser hypothesis. By itself, childhood or adolescent sexual contact with an adult is inadequate to explain subsequent adult sexual behavior with children or adolescents. [...]
Numerous researchers have suggested that sexual contact between adults and chidren and adults and adolescents has no inevitable consequences but that the consequences depend on a complex network of interrelated variables (Bender, 1965; Bender and Grugett, 1952; Constantine, 1980; Finch, 1973; Halleck, 1965; Rieker and Carmen, 1986; Seghorn, Prentky and Boucher, 1987). What is indicated, therefore, is that research should attempt to identify those conditions under which the abused/abuser hypothesis has merit, inasmuch as previous sexual behavior with an adult does not in itself adequately explain adult sexual behavior with children and adolescents. Unfortunately, most of the research conducted to date has focused primarily on the prevalence of childhood or adolescent histories of sexual contact with adults among adult sex offenders of children and adolescents.
A number of studies have investigated the prevalence of childhood and adolescent histories of sexual behavior with adults among sex offenders of children and adolescents. Many of these studies have been relatively unsophisticated in that few attempts have been made to integrate these childhood and adolescent sexual experiences with other factors. Additionally, the sophistication of many of these studies has been compromised by methodological issues relating mainly to the composition of sex offender groups and to the utilization of comparison groups. [...]
The least sophisticated of studies give the prevalence of self-reported childhood or adolescent sexual behavior with adults among more or less well-defined samples of sex offenders. These studies include no comparison groups, making it impossible to directly evaluate whether the prevalence of childhood or adolescent sexual contact with adults is greater for sex offenders than it is for individuals with similar demographic characteristics who are not sex offenders.
Regrettably, all of the reviewed studies of adolescent sex offenders fall into this category. Additionally, the adolescent studies utilized heterogeneous sex offender samples, including, for example, exhibitionists, voyeurs, rapists, and pedophiles.
Longo (1982) found that 47% of his sample of adolescent sex offenders reported that they had engaged in sexual behaviour with an adult during childhood. Of Longo's sample, 40% were identified sex offenders of children. Fehrenbach et al. (1986) found a childhood history of sexual behaviour with adults in 18% of their sample of adolescent sex offenders of children. Finally, Becker at al. (1986), studying a sample consisting of 77% intrafamilial adolescent sex offenders of children, noted that 23% of them had previously engaged in sexual behaviour with an adult when they were children.
Those studies of adult sex offenders of children that did not include comparison groups are Frisbie (1969) and Abel (cited in Knopp, 1984). Frisbie (1969) a found that 24% of a group of sex offenders of children reported childhood histories of sexual contact with an adult. Frisbie's data suggested that childhood sexual behaviour with an adult was more prevalent among sex offenders of male or both male and female children as compared to sex offenders exclusively of female children. Abel (cited in Knopp, 1984), too, found a self-reported history of childhood sexual behavior with adults to be more prevalent among sex offenders of male children (40% prevalence rate) versus sex offenders of female children (20% prevalence rate).
Seghorn, Prentky, and Boucher (1987) found that 23% of a sample of rapists and 57% of a sample of sex offenders of children and adolescents reported childhood and adolescent sexual contacts with adults. Tingle at al. (1986) investigated both homosexual and heterosexual childhood and adolescent sexual behavior with adults among rapists and among sex offenders of children and adolescents. These investigators observed that 38% of the rapists and 56% of the sex offenders of children reported childhood or adolescent histories of sexual behavior with adults. Among the rapists, 62% had been sexually involved with males, 0% with females, and 38% had been sexually involved with both males and females. For the sex offenders of children, 70% had been sexually involved with males, 13% had been sexually involved with females, and 17% had been sexually involved with both males and females.
Two studies investigated childhood and adolescent histories of sexual contact with adults among sex offenders of children and among multiple comparison groups 
[about Groth 1979], [about Condy 1987]
Finally, there are the most sophisticated of the studies, those that utilized differentiated groups of sex offenders of children and adolescents as well as multiple comparison groups.
[about Gebhard 1965]
[about Langevin 1985]
[about Langevin & Lang 1985]
 No doubt, sampling and methodological differences among the studies account for much of the variability in findings.  Despite this variability, self-reported childhood and adolescent sexual behavior with adults is more prevalent among adjusticated sex offenders of children and adolescents than among comparison groups of nonoffender males. However, it also appears that the self-reported prevalence of childhood and adolescent sexual behavior with adults is roughly comparable among adjusticated sex offenders of children, adjusticated nonsexual offenders, and other types of adjusticated sex offenders.  Thus, while the prevalence of childhood and adolescent sexual behavior with adults may differentiate nonoffender males from adjusticated sex offenders of children, it does not clearly differentiate the latter group either from other adjusticated sex offenders or from nonsexual offenders.
However, even this conclusion is tentative because of the methodological limitations of the studies reviewed. 
A reasonable overall estimate of the percentage of adjusticated sex offenders of children and adolescents who report having experienced sexual contact with an adult during childhood or adolescence is approximately 30%. Childhood and adolescent sexual contact with an adult thus characterizes only a fraction of such adjusticated sex offenders.  Thus, sexual contact with an adult is not a necessary cause for becoming an adjusticated adult sex offender of children and adolescents.
In summary, the abused/abuser hypothesis - the belief that sexual behavior between adults and children or adolescents causses those children to become sexually involved with other children and adolescents - is inadequate and incorrect. If sexual behavior between adults and children is at all a significant factor in the intergenerational transmission of such behavior, it is a factor that acts in combination with other factors to produce such an outcome.